Entertainment

How the Golden Globes Wound Up in a Death Spiral

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which administers the awards, is facing a boycott from the film and TV industry’s most powerful players.
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
May 11, 2021, 9:30pm
golden globe statuettes
Image via GEtty

The Golden Globes are in the midst of a life-or-death crisis, one that has decimated the awards show’s standing in Hollywood and, after a 77-year run, could force it to shut down for good. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which administers the awards, is facing a mass boycott from some of the film and TV industry’s most powerful players, including Netflix, Amazon Studios, WarnerMedia (the parent company of HBO and Warner Bros.), and a group of more than 100 PR firms that collectively represent the biggest names in the business. Some A-list actors have joined the boycott themselves, and Tom Cruise just became the first Globes winner to return his awards.

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On Monday, NBC announced it wouldn’t air the Globes in 2022. If you’re a casual viewer, that means that, at a minimum, you’ll miss out on a chance to see a bunch of famous people walk the red carpet and make a few speeches next year. But there’s also a possibility that the HFPA won’t give out awards at all.

This whole fiasco started back in February, when the Los Angeles Times published a story revealing a galling lack of diversity at the HFPA. Additionally, the Times reported, the HFPA’s members have been accused of accepting expensive gifts, press trips, and access to talent in exchange for Golden Globes votes, among other ethical improprieties. If the HFPA doesn’t clean up its act—and quickly—the powers that be in Hollywood are threatening to abandon it altogether.

We’ve laid out everything you need to know about the mess at the Golden Globes below. If you’re confused about how we got here to begin with—and curious as to whether the Globes are ever coming back—this should get you up to speed.

How Did the Globes Screw Up?

In mid-February, the Los Angeles Times published a pair of exposés about the Globes. The first focused on issues of diversity and inclusion at the HFPA, whose shockingly small membership—made up of about 86 people—hasn’t included a single Black member in more than twenty years. 

The HFPA describes itself as geographically diverse; its members purportedly “represent some 55 countries,” according to the Golden Globes website. But the Times report casts doubt on that figure. Some American members have represented other countries, including China, Mexico, and Germany, without having any clear ties to those countries. One former president of the HFPA, who is from India, once represented Singapore; another former president, from the Netherlands, once represented Australia and Cuba. 

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The Globes website also describes HFPA members as authoritative, well-reputed journalists with “a combined readership of more than 250 million.” According to the Times, however, “relatively few” HFPA members write full-time for major international outlets, and some barely qualify as journalists at all. While the HFPA doesn’t disclose the identities of all of its members, the Times found that they include:

  • Chinese-born actress Lisa Lu, who played the grandmother in Crazy Rich Asians
  • Margaret Gardiner, a former beauty queen and Miss Universe winner whose reporting career seems to be confined mostly to interviews with actors she posts on YouTube
  • Alexander Nevsky, whom the Times described as “a Russian bodybuilder-turned-actor and filmmaker who has produced and starred in a number of low-budget action films”

The second Times exposé detailed how the HFPA, which is a nonprofit organization, pays its members thousands of dollars to watch films, serve on various committees, and perform other Globes-related tasks—something that doesn’t happen at the Oscars or Emmys, where voting members aren’t compensated for their work for the awards show. In fiscal year 2020, the HFPA paid its members almost $2 million for their work on the Globes, according to the Times. “By the end of 2020,” the Times reported, “the association was collectively paying nearly $100,000 a month to members serving on more than a dozen different committees.”

The Times also shed light on allegations that HFPA members have essentially taken bribes in exchange for Golden Globes votes, a claim the HFPA has denied. From the Times:

“[HFPA members] are routinely granted exclusive access to Hollywood power players, invited to junkets in exotic locales, put up in five-star hotels and, as Globes nominations near, lavished with gifts, dinners and star-studded parties… In 2011, the HFPA’s longtime publicist, Michael Russell, filed a lawsuit alleging that members accepted money, vacations, gifts and a host of perks ‘provided by studios and producers in exchange for support or votes in nominating or awarding a particular film.’”

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At this year’s Golden Globes, the HFPA’s two biggest issues—a complete lack of Black representation and, allegedly, a de-facto payola system—appeared to be reflected in the slate of nominees. None of 2020’s most critically-acclaimed, Black-led films—Da 5 Bloods, One Night in Miami, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—were nominated in the Globes’ best picture categories. Meanwhile, Emily in Paris, an easy-watching, guilty pleasure series, earned two nominations. A month before the nominations were announced, 30 HFPA members flew to Paris for a cushy trip to the set of Emily in Paris, where they were put up in a $1,400-a-night hotel.

How Did the Boycott Start?

In March, a group of 102 Hollywood PR firms instructed their clients to stop working with the HFPA until the organization had enacted “profound and lasting change” to clean up its act, as Variety reported at the time. In response, the HFPA announced it would come up with a plan to diversify its ranks, in part by adding at least 13 Black members. 

A month later, former HFPA president Phil Berk sent an email to the HFPA’s members, staff, and COO including a post that called Black Lives Matter a “racist hate organization,” smeared its co-founder Patrisse Cullors, and described the movement as “carrying on [Charles] Manson’s work,” the LA Times reports. Berk, who was still an HFPA member at the time, was expelled the next day.

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In early May, the HFPA finally unveiled a plan to reform itself. The organization announced it would admit 20 new members in 2021, “with a specific focus on recruiting Black members,” as Variety reported at the time. Over the next 18 months, the HFPA said, it would expand its membership by 50 percent. It also promised to hire a chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, create an independent committee of “racially and ethnically diverse members” to oversee the HFPA’s diversity efforts, restrict the gifts members could accept from studios, and curb the payments they receive for their work on the Globes.

The HFPA quickly ratified the plan—but to those in Hollywood hoping for radical change at the Globes, it didn’t go far enough. On May 6, the same day the HFPA voted in favor of the plan, Netflix announced it would stop working with the HFPA until it enacted more sweeping reforms, Deadline reports. “We don’t believe these proposed new policies—particularly around the size and speed of membership growth—will tackle the HFPA’s systemic diversity and inclusion challenges, or the lack of clear standards for how your members should operate,” Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos wrote in a letter to the HFPA. “We’re stopping any activities with your organization until more meaningful changes are made.”

On May 7, the 102 PR firms that started the boycott announced they would continue to refuse to work with the HFPA. On May 8, Amazon Studios joined the boycott. On May 10, WarnerMedia followed suit.

Is This The End of the Golden Globes?

On Monday, NBC announced it wouldn’t air the 2022 Golden Globes. According to Variety, executives at the network couldn’t envision the ceremony happening without the support of those boycotting the HFPA, and were frustrated that the organization couldn’t come up with a concrete timeline for growing and diversifying its ranks. 

“Change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” the network wrote in a statement to Variety. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

The HFPA could ostensibly hold the Golden Globes without a network willing to broadcast them. It’s also possible—and perhaps more likely—that they’ll scrap next year’s awards altogether. As of now, the HFPA hasn’t announced whether it will administer awards in 2022 or not.

While NBC has publicly said that it wants to air the Globes again in 2023, insiders at the broadcaster told Variety this could be the end of its relationship with the HFPA. If NBC cuts ties with the Golden Globes, the HFPA will have to find another network willing to air the awards show. That wouldn’t be easy—especially considering that the Globes’ ratings, like those of all awards shows, have been plummeting for years.

For now, the future of the Golden Globes is unclear. Whether it survives this crisis will come down to how much the HFPA is willing to do to change, and whether—no matter how extensively the organization might reform itself—Hollywood is willing to give it a second chance.